Last night, the Quit Your Day Job Comedy Tour came to the Howlin' Wolf.
[Updated] On a recent episode of Marc Maron's WTF podcast, comedy impressario Budd Friedman remembers Robert Klein recording his sets on a reel-to-reel tape machine that was the size of a piece of furniture. That part of comedy has become easier. Last night, three comedians from Knoxville, Tennessee played the Howlin' Wolf's Den on the Quit Your Day Job Tour, and they had a portable video recorder and audio recorder set up petitely by the back wall. But in other ways, it's still a grind. Matt Ward, J.C. Ratliff and Grady Ray are doing 11 shows in 11 nights, sleeping on floors and couches most of the way.
Judging by last night's show, playing Tuscaloosa last Saturday was a challenging experience as they performed to drunken Crimson Tide fans after the SEC Championship Game - likely not the most focused crowd. Not that last night was easy. Ratliff had trouble connecting to the audience and paused to ironically observe, "This is going well" after another joke was met with smiles but no laughs. Some of his material suffered for not really being about anything including a bit about freaking people out at Walmart - something I can't imagine anyone in the room believed he actually did. The bit had a good punchline, and his delivery of suggested Bill Hicks is an influence, but his rhythm rarely left room for pieces of his jokes to get heard and be felt. As a result, I remember funny ideas from his set but didn't laugh much.
Matt Ward set drew attention to Ratliff's delivery, letting set-ups and punchlines land with a more relaxed pace. At first, his set seemed a little random as he dotted Steven Wright-like observations into more everyday material, but as it went on, it all began to coalesce into a slightly surreal whole.
Unfortunately, I missed Ray. The Wolf starts its regular Tuesday night comedy shows on time, which is a good thing but a discovery I learned the hard way. Life won't get easier for Ward, Ratliff and Ray right away either - tonight they're playing a sports bar in Baton Rouge. Touring the SEC is not for the faint of heart.
Updated December 11, 8:43 p.m.
The original text implied that each comedian had a video recorder. Matt Ward corrected me, letting me know that there were only two devices - one an audio recorder and one a video recorder. The text has been changed to reflect this correction.